Today’s Metrolinx Board Meeting was notable both for the update, in public session, of the project status for five major lines as well as for supplementary information that came out in a press scrum after the public session.
Five projects now have funding and are at various stages in their approval/construction process.
Viva Next Phase 1
- Construction start 2009, in service 2013
- Projected peak demand 3,100-5,800 per hour
- Committed funding $1.4-billion
- Route length 37km
Phase 1 comprises the link east on Highway 7 from Richmond Hill Centre to Markham Centre as well as a piece of the Viva network in Newmarket. The future Phase 2 will include Highway 7 west from Richmond Hill to Pine Valley, and Yonge from Richmond Hil north to 19th.
Sheppard East LRT
- Construction start 2009, in service 2013-14
- Projected peak demand 3,100 per hour
- Committed funding $1.0-billion
- Route length 15km
Preliminary work has already started on watermain upgrades and relocation in advance of LRT construction above, as well as for the bypass road at Agincourt GO Station where a road/rail grade separation will be built.
This line is planned to run from Don Mills to Meadowvale. See discussion below re UofT Scarborough Campus (UTSC) and the Pan Am Games.
This line is planned to from Humber College east via Finch to Yonge, an ultimately to Don Mills Station at Sheppard. The term “ultimately” used in the presentation suggests that for budgetary reasons the eastern leg of the line may not be part of the first phase of this project.
This project includes the replacement of the existing Scarborough RT and its extension north to Sheppard, eventually to Malvern. The presentation confirmed that the section north of Sheppard would not be built in the first phase of the project.
During the press scrum after the public meeting, John Howe, Metrolinx’ General Manager of Investment Strategy and Projects, was asked about the technology choice for the SRT. He stated that Metrolinx and the TTC are agreed that the SRT line should be converted to LRT technology, that the cost of the LRT and RT options were approximately equal, and that the ability to integrate the SRT into the new LRT network was beneficial.
He also noted that the SRT is an important part of the Pan Am Games preparations (see below).
We have now had public statements by senior management at both the TTC and Metrolinx that the SRT will be converted to an LRT line. The TTC needs to get on with a round of public consultation that actually reflects the LRT option rather than saying “we really want LRT, but we’re showing you RT for political reasons”.
This also puts to rest concerns that a shadow-proposal for “extension” of the SRT westward via Eglinton is now off of the table. One of the badly kept secrets at Metrolinx was the lobbying effort by Bombardier for a turnkey contract to implement their proprietary technology on an extended SRT plus Eglinton. This would not only have cut the heart out of Transit City itself, but would raise difficult questions about transparency and public sector procurement rules.
One major concern for Metrolinx is that the SRT conversion to LRT be completed on time. A possible option, according to Howe, is that the SRT would remain in operation as RT until after the games. This is a dangerous option because the line will have to run with aging equipment and infrastructure for over 5 more years. The real issue is that a formal decision on LRT conversion and a well-designed project plan are required to ensure the S(L)RT is open well before it is needed for the Games.
There are really two separate projects involved. Building an LRT line south from Sheppard to the east end of McCowan Yard, and converting the existing line to LRT. Because of the foot-dragging by all concerned on the technology issue, and the TTC’s preference to paint the conversion in the worst possible light for construction timing, we face both the discomfort of politicians who must embrace this change and of a public who have been repeatedly told it is fraught with problems. This is not good transit advocacy.
The Kennedy Station design work is only now beginning, and early work based on an RT-based SRT must be revised to include possible through operation of Eglinton and SRT trains. We have wasted a lot of time even though we are finally, as I have long argued, at the right conclusion.
The Eglinton line, despite being listed as “LRT”, still has a dual personality in Metrolinx. Some parts of today’s presentations refer to it as the “Eglinton Crosstown RT”, the generic term used when Metrolinx was still pushing for this to be an RT line rather than LRT.
The line will run from Kennedy Station to the Airport and, according to the recently released Transit Project Assessment, will open in stages. First, in 2016, will be Eglinton West Station to a transit terminal at Commerce Blvd. in Mississauga where it will meet GO and Mississauga Transit Services. Next, in 2018, will be the section east from Eglinton West to Kennedy Station. Finally, in 2020, the segment north to the Airport.
An outstanding issue for design is a Metrolinx proposal to grade-separate some intersections to reduce travel times. The specifics of this proposal were not included in the presentation. Indeed, the TTC’s Transit Project Assessment refers to possible omission of some stops on the west end of the line to speed running times to the Airport.
With luck, we may see more details in the public consultation sessions next week.
The Pan-Am Games
Metrolinx regards the Viva Highway 7, SRT and Sheppard East projects as crucial for service to the Pan-Am Games. During the presentation, John Howe suggested that service to the aquatic centre at UTSC could be provided by shuttle bus service running from somewhere (unspecified) on the rapid transit network.
An alternative, which I put forward during the press scrum, would be to build only the northern part of the proposed Scarborough-Malvern LRT, roughly 2.3km of line south via Morningside to UTSC. This would provide a direct link to Don Mills Station via the Sheppard LRT, would give that line an eastern anchor and generator of counter-peak traffic, and would permit (with a suitable junction at the SRT/Sheppard LRT crossing) direct service during the games period from Kennedy Station to UTSC via Sheppard. John Howe confirmed that this is an option Metrolinx is considering.
Metrolinx expects to have a better handle on its involvement in and the requirements for the Games in a few weeks, but will not formally report this to the Board until its February 2010 meeting.
Transit City Vehicles
The TTC, Metrolinx and Queen’s Park are in the final stages of a procurement arrangement for the Transit City vehicles which, for the lines announced so far, will be a fleet of 265 cars or more. A provincial decision approving the purchase scheme is imminent, and is in any event required by the end of 2009 so that the first cars will be in place for the Sheppard East opening.
Alternative Financing Procurement
This is a wonderfully vague term used by Infrastructure Ontario to describe a hybrid private/public sector procurement scheme. The supposed advantage is that the private partner has an incentive to deliver a project on time and on budget within a fixed price. Metrolinx cites Vancouver’s Canada Line project as an example of a “successful” project, although issues have come to light regarding neighbourhood disruption and low-wage off-shore labour. More to the point, any private contractor will build in a reserve to their price to protect against penalties, and indeed in a worst case scenario, it may be preferable to accept the penalty rather than meet the contract.
Current plans call for the Finch and Scarborough RT projects to be undertaken by AFP while the Viva Phase 1 and Sheppard East projects would be done by York Region and TTC respectively as these are already underway. The approach to be used for Eglinton is at this point uncertain, but a decision will be made early in 2010.
The funding amounts shown above are the provincial (and in the case of Sheppard partly Federal) announced levels of support for these projects. Any attempt to calculate a cost/km should be done with care as the actual length of route to be built for the money available remains to be seen. Given the current financial situation at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa, additional funding for these projects is highly unlikely. This also raises the question of the pressure to constrain funding on any other projects that may come to light and the need for new or redirected sources of revenue.
This brings in partly the rationale for AFP in that if a third party builds a route and then leases it to Metrolinx, the debt is in the form of a long term lease rather than immediate spending by Queen’s Park. Although this might be used to shift some of the project costs off of provincial books in the short term, public sector accounting standards now treat long-term leases similarly to debt in that both involve future unavoidable expense.
Metrolinx will recognize expenditures from local governments and agencies back to 2007 as part of project funding. This will allow York Region and Toronto to recoup their investment in planning and design work for Viva Next and Transit City.
John Howe made the strong point that without the up-front work by Toronto on Transit City, Metrolinx would not have a “Big 5” today because no projects in the regional plan would have advanced enough to be in or close to construction.
Indeed, any city is free to engage in proposals and design with the recognition that the cost will only be recouped from Metrolinx if and when the project is funded. The idea is to leave the door open for proposals, but with an incentive to be reasonable. This sounds good, but it begs the question of how any local initiatives would fit with Metrolinx’ unwillingnes to entertain changes in their Regional Plan.
Slowly, the machinery of co-operative ventures between Queen’s Park and local operations, especially Toronto and the TTC, is working better. May this continue.